Marketing your brand to ‘technology’

Photo by Adrien on Unsplash

In Mobile World Congress 2018, Maurice Levy, chairman of Publicis Groupe, made an interesting comment about the future of brands in the world of home technology — “If we go to the extreme — and we’re not there yet — the marketing and communication of tomorrow is computer to computer, where brands will not be marketing to the consumer but to the fridge or the computer,”.

His comment is not about predicting a dystopian world where we have all turned into machines or have completely lost our human abilities of making choices and taking decisions. His comments were more about an “subtle barrier” that technology is creating around our ability to take independent brand purchase decisions. It is about diluting our capacity to make choices and think intelligently. On a positive side, it is about an attempt to free up our time from shifting through fragmented categories and arriving at the best price-value equation.

This is not a doomsday post but an analysis to understand the impact of smart home assistants on brand funnels. Professor Mark Ritson has written a great thought piece on the impact of voice on brands and supermarkets, which in essence is the commoditisation or significant dilution of brand equity. Home assistants will gradually start ordering brands based on their own internal recommendation engines, ratings and price-value equation. You can read the article below:

In my own piece that I published earlier, I suggested some strategies on how brands can make ‘voice’ work for them (even when they are in the Amazon, Google and Apple retail environments). You can read the article here:

Marketing your brands to technology is not restricted to “voice” only. There are some parallels that already exist. When brands negotiate with retailers for supermarket shelf space and stocking, there are multiple factors at play — sales potential, retailer profit margins, manufacturer (brand) profit margins, seasonality vs. all-year round demand, demand volumes, repeat sales etc.

When we are talking about marketing to technology we have similar factors but playing out differently — orders (sales), ratings (recommendations / WOM), delivery quality (timeliness, accuracy, quality) and pricing (akin to competitive pricing in supermarkets). If we move away from “voice” based home assistants and look at a wider picture, brands will have similar challenges. These include how to gain supplier reputation in the Amazon marketplace, how to become Prime eligible, how to pass the stringent requirements to get listed on the App Store, getting selected to be listed in Farfetch, how to move up the rankings in YouTube or even how to come up as a Top 10 result in a Google search query.

In addition to the above factors, marketing to technology requires a brand to have the resilience to withstand constant changes of rules that drive algorithmic search, rankings, visibility and engagement (as a consequence). Every technology platform (be it social, search, aggregator or online retail) has its own set of rules for engagement. But there are broad rules that brands can follow:

Search — Unique, distinctive, keyword-driven, trending, specific and relevant use of information in all forms of content, search can have a heavy selling skew

Social — Achieving a fine balance between direct selling and acting as a source of knowledge and empowerment for the community (using a mix of articles, updates, news and image sharing)

Aggregator — Focusing on designing a user-friendly, informative and navigable website. Placing a lot of emphasis on customer satisfactions and using ratings as a marketing tool

Online retail — Establishing a brand page or listing in accordance with the rules of the platform, focusing on high quality customer service, pro-active engagement with customers, using ratings as a marketing boost, moving the brand up on a quality and relevance scale to be selected more often by ‘recommendation engines’

One of the prerequisites of success while marketing a brand to a technology platform, is to make the brand ‘technology friendly’. In the case of human beings, the word friendly has diverse meanings, can be a variety of behaviours and is subject to individual interpretation. When it comes to technology, ‘friendly’ is a much more focused and narrow word. There are a few important features of a ‘friendly’ brand on a technology platform — visually appealing, clarity of communication, simple buying process, finger-friendly navigation and ‘always on’ customer service.

When a consumer buys a brand using his or her mobile, the expectations around the exploration, decision-making and ultimate purchase is markedly different compared to a consumer roaming in supermarket aisles. I made an emergency physical shopping trip today. It took me 15 minutes to buy a specific type of cheese I was looking for because the supermarket decided to move around the stocking arrangement. On their website, it would have taken me less than 10 seconds. I accepted the annoyance because the items on the shopping list were urgent.On my online shopping trip, I would have simply made a pass on that item.

There are now tomes being written on how brand’s should start incorporating Alexa’s voice instructions / commands in their branding vocabulary or positioning statements. This is all good and a pro-active way of preparing for the future. The future also seems to be increasingly Amazon-created (with their recent foray into healthcare serving as an example).

But the future of technology is not only Amazon or Alexa, but far more transformational and exciting. We will have retail channel disruption, a seamless mix of offline and online shopping modes, the disappearance of money as a form of credit, experiential marketing taking over every form of marketing communication, rapid evolution of category dynamics and emergence of competition from beyond traditional boundaries. All of these, if not already, will be driven by technology.

A simple yet powerful framework for marketing a brand to technology should have the following aspects:

  • Fluid and seamless brand assets — made to standout on devices that are the ultimate channels (e.g. a mobile phone screen)
  • Distinctive brand messages (long-form, short-form, visual, audio or interactive)
  • Device-agnostic (seamless across desktops, laptops, iPads, smartphones and feature-phones)
  • High-impact creative strategy — powerful visuals, distinct packaging, use of shorter sentences and consistency across channels / platforms
  • Ease of information gathering, asking questions, interpretation of brand messages and making comparisons
  • Simple and powerful buying process — ease of finalising basket, acceptance of multiple forms of credit, safe (and encrypted) transaction platforms and accurate billing / invoicing
  • High quality and timely delivery of physical products
  • Always-on, proactive, responsive and supportive customer support
  • Honest efforts to build a relationship, which leads to positive ratings, online and offline WOM and deepening of brand loyalty

These are the critical dimensions of a highly effective marketing strategy for brands towards technology. The single thread running through all these dimensions is that of ‘convenience’. The most profound change for brands as they shift their focus from “marketing to human beings” to “marketing to technology” is the need for clarity. Any form of technological innovation has a core underlying feature — the ability to enhance the quality of human life. Technology does this by making an aspect of life simpler, more convenient and more impactful. Marketing to technology requires a brand to do exactly the same. If I am unable to find a specific food item for my special dietary requirements online, I will go to a physical store. If I can’t find the right size for a dress online, I will simply try another retailer (or if I am brand fixated I will make a physical visit). If buying an item online allows me to try out a new line of products in the portfolio, I will buy that item online.

For brands to win on these microcosm of online vs. offline decisions, their marketing to technology should focus on providing a clear and tangible benefit and offering it in the most convenient way. Technology changes or transforms rapidly but as human beings, our behavioural patterns don’t change that fast. They deepen and raise our expectations. Brands need to continue winning on these expectations.

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Strategy Consultant

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Sandeep Das

Sandeep Das

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